Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Human Pyramid

Homosexuals have contributed a great deal to the fabric of popular culture. Many mainstream trends began life as fads that they adopted first. Haircuts such as the Caesar and the fauxhawk. Music genres including the 70s disco boom and the 90s hard house phenomena. And, on the drugs front, poppers and Rohypnol.

The gays also play a prominent role in many fine examples of graffiti, sometimes as the victims and sometimes as the perpetrators. In this posting’s offering, they are on the receiving end.

On the corner of Edinburgh’s Abbeymount and Montrose Terrace stands The Regent. Dating back to the late Victorian era, these days it’s a favoured drinking venue among the city’s gay community. In the summer of 2006, its façade was painted a dark shade of turquoise, and very striking it is too. But this makeover meant that one of the Scottish capital’s more enterprising pieces of graffiti was destroyed. For there, on the wall between the pub’s name and the burglar alarm, the word BUMS had previously stood, shining out from the grime like a beacon.

Do not underestimate this graffitist’s dedication to the cause. It was written high above pavement level, so unless it involved a ladder or a stilt-walker - sadly not an uncommon sight during the annual Festival Fringe - then it must have been carried out with the help of a human pyramid.

No doubt making their slow and noisy way home after chucking-out time one night, and with any lingering doubts about their own sexualities hidden under a cloak of homophobia, the gang would have set to work. Clambering over each other, they’ll have wobbled into position and struggled to maintain it long enough for the one on top to reach out and add his pithy bon mot. Fortunately he had the presence of mind to improvise with his finger in the absence of a Magic Marker. Mission accomplished, the pyramid would then have collapsed in a heap. Their bruises must have been worn like badges of honour.

It’s a busy junction day and night, so this operation took plenty of nerve to pull off. And like all acts of exterior graffiti, no doubt the thrill of doing it alfresco and the risk of getting caught added an extra frisson to the caper.

Luckily, just a few weeks before the outside of the pub was redecorated, the above photograph was captured. It’s a moment frozen in time, a little piece of old Edinburgh lost forever from the physical world, but preserved courtesy of the digital threesome of cameraphone, Bluetooth and cyberspace.

The BUMS Regent. Gone, but not forgotten.

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